Desire discrepancy in couples is one of the most common sources of distress within sexual relationships. Couples may find themselves in situations where one parter is the high desire partner (HDP) and the other is the low desire partner (LDP). These labels can lead one or both partners to feel broken and blamed for problems in the relationship. Other couples may find resentment builds when their partner either “doesn’t want them sexually” or “only wants them for sexual release”.
If you and your partner are stuck in this sort of dynamic, first, know that neither one of you is broken. All levels of desire are normal, and very few relationships involve couples with consistently balanced interest in sex.
Second, if you can step away from looking at your partner’s level of sexual desire as the problem, it will be much easier to work together to bridge the gap.
Bridging The Gap:
If you find yourself wanting sex more often than your partner, ask yourself, “what am I horny for”. Dr. Neil Cannon lists the following as motives for seeking sex:
When you identify what your motive for sex is, you can examine whether some of those desires could be met in other ways. This begins to reduce pressure on your partner, narrowing the gap between your experienced desire.
Another tool you can use to help bridge gaps in desire is to identify, as Emily Nagoski calls them, your sexual brakes and accelerators. What turns you on? What turns you off? How can you as an individual and as a couple work to minimize brakes and maximize accelerators?
One huge brake many individuals experience is not enjoying the sex they are having. This is usually a result of poor communication or shame surrounding sexuality. Using the brakes and accelerators framework can be a great way to improve communication about sexual preferences. Make sure you speak up so your partner knows what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy. Make sure to listen so you really hear what your partner is sharing with you. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner, increasing mutual pleasure and satisfaction in your relationship.
Lastly, try scheduling sex in your calendar. On the appointed day, work on managing your own brakes/accelerators to help you get in the mood. Recognize when there are things you can do to help your partner look forward to the experience with positive anticipation. Text and flirt throughout the day. Make sure that when it comes down to it, saying “not tonight”, is still an option, this reduces pressure. If you are the partner who wants to say no, consider saying yes to something else instead. For example, “I’m really not feeling up to penetrative sex tonight, but I’d love to cuddle, skin to skin”, or, “I’m not feeling up for penis-in-vagina sex at the moment, but I’d really love to just make out with you”. Then leave the door open for whatever may (or may not) follow, pressure free. Regardless of the outcome, you will feel more connected and you will have improved your ability to communicate about your wants and desires.
If you’d like to learn more about bridging a desire gap in your relationship, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Sexuality is a charged topic for both adults and some children. Messages about what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate are woven into the fabric of our cultural traditions, moral codes of conduct, and family systems. Negative messages cause a great deal of harm, mainly when the message contains sexual shaming. Masturbation is one of these topics.
Masturbation is extremely common, yet because it is private, we don’t talk about it with our children or a spouse. According to research, self-stimulation is a normal activity experienced by nearly all people starting at very young ages and can be observed in utero (Yang et al., 2005). Masturbation (like any behavior) can be both healthy and problematic; it is also experienced differently based on age. It well understood that nearly all males and most females will, at some point in their lifetime, masturbate.
When is it Healthy?
Nearly all professionals agree age-appropriate stages of self-stimulation is healthy. For example, exploring one’s body and how it responds sexually is a beneficial aspect of maturation. Men and women can learn what an orgasm is, so they are better equipped to educate their spouse on what types of sexual touch they enjoy. Also, individuals can use masturbation to self-sooth as a coping mechanism for mood regulation. For many people who (for whatever reason) are not in an intimate relationship, masturbation can be a healthy outlet to release sexual tension. Many relationships do not have an equal balance of libido. For some “higher libido” partners, masturbation can offer a method to balance sexual needs.
When is it Not Healthy?
Behaviors become problematic when they negatively impact, work, school, or one’s social life. Like all sexual behaviors, masturbation may conflict with religious values. In a recent study from students at Brigham Young University, researchers reported the perception of pornography (a common corollary with masturbation) is the primary predictor of negative outcomes, not the pornography use itself (Leonhardt, Willoughby, Young-Peterse, 2018). It is important to inventory what our values are and why we have them. It can be helpful to challenge what we believe, while still honoring our values and the values of others. In many situations, individuals with strict religious tenets regarding masturbation find themselves in harmful shame cycles leading to increased rates of depression, compulsivity, or suicidal ideation (Beagan & Hattie, 2015). Researchers don’t diminish the value of traditional moral values. However, they do suggest creating a healthy relationship with our values within the normal range of human experiences.
Myths about Masturbation
We tell stories and create myths to justify attitudes about sexuality. Some common myths include masturbation causes homosexuality, is an addiction, leads to infidelity, will lower sexual desire, create hypersexuality, may cause you to go blind, and causes cancer in men. These things are not true. However, there are things that do occur. For example, a partner may feel betrayed when they learn their spouse masturbates. Couples can contract what cheating is, and what betrayal is. Feelings of betrayal are especially common when erotic material is involved. People engage in negatively impacting habit-forming behaviors with all sorts of things, including masturbation. Also, some coping mechanisms prevent healthy attachment in relationships.
Talking about Masturbation to our Children
It’s helpful for parents to have discussions with their children about masturbation in age-appropriate ways. For example, 5-year-old children don’t typically need to learn about orgasm mechanics, but talking about what “feels good” is more appropriate. Also, shaming a child by saying, “don’t touch that,” could be replaced with useful comments such as “that feels good, maybe you should do that in private.”. Children without parental guidance will learn about masturbation from friends or erotic material. Pornography doesn’t typically represent healthy sexual education. It is also beneficial to create safety for children, so as they begin to explore their sexuality (in person or with others), they feel safe to engage a parent about their experiences. Normalizing sexual desire, response, and anxieties create wellbeing for developing children. Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that not all children have the same sexual interests, levels of desire, or attractions at the same age as other children. It’s important to meet our children where they are at.
Talking about Masturbation to a Partner
An important aspect of contracting between couples includes the topic of masturbation. As a part of healthy sexual practices, discussing what is acceptable (or not) is essential. While there are many options, some couples will incorporate self-pleasuring behaviors into their relationship as a method to balance sex-drive differences. Often one partner may feel betrayal if they learn their spouse masturbates. When couples talk openly with each other about their feelings and attitudes regarding sexuality, it usually removes the stress in these situations. A good place to start is becoming aware of your own sexual biases and perspectives. Some couples find it helpful to discuss these feelings with a competent therapist. It’s important to remember masturbation doesn’t constitute cheating. Marriage isn’t the antidote for fulfilling all sexual needs. Many married people masturbate. Much of the time, masturbation creates better sexual experiences for couples.
Talking about Masturbation to Church Leaders
In many faith traditions, ecclesiastical leaders counsel parishioners regarding sexual behavior. Not all religions have sex-positive perspectives. In many cases, such leaders have no training regarding sexuality, trauma, or psychological situations. A lack of training can be problematic. This doesn’t suggest the support of an ecclesiastical leader cannot be helpful. Individuals seeking counsel from their church leader should remember boundaries are essential. It’s okay to tell a church leader what questions or statements are inappropriate or feel uncomfortable. This is especially true for parents whose children may be questioned regarding their sexual behavior, to communicate what forms of communication are acceptable and what is not.
Leonhardt, N. D., Willoughby, B. J., & Young-Petersen, B. (2018). Damaged goods: Perception of pornography addiction as a mediator between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 357-368.
Beagan, B. L., & Hattie, B. (2015). Religion, spirituality, and LGBTQ identity integration. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 9(2), 92-117.Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.
O yes, we are talking about the big O. A little too big, if you ask me. As I sit with couples and discuss the tender issue of sex and the vulnerabilities it uncovers, I notice that a lot of people make a HUGE deal about orgasms. Now, I get it, orgasms are great! However, sometimes when couples make an orgasm the determining factor as to whether or not a sexual encounter was good or bad, they may discredit a lot of other good things that happen during sex.
The truth is, not everyone orgasms every time they have sex. This varies widely from individual to individual. Some people have orgasms frequently, hit or miss, or rarely at all. Some people are distressed by a lack of orgasm, and some are not. Some people are distressed by having an orgasm. Individual experiences and contexts influence what meaning we attach to things such as orgasm.
This being the reality, you can see how much pressure it can add to a sexual encounter to make orgasm the primary goal. While orgasms feel spectacular for most, connection is a good goal for sex. In fact, when someone is feeling pressure or anxiety about “making someone orgasm,” or, “I need to orgasm so my partner feels like a good enough lover,” it actually interferes with the mechanisms in the body that make orgasm the most likely. Ironic, right?
This is why I tell couples to think of orgasm as the side dish, and connection as the main dish. It is okay if you want to orgasm more and take healthy steps to work toward that with your partner. This is best achieved in a mind set of “if it happens great, but if not, we will keep practicing,” rather than a pass or fail mentality. My advice is to relax, communicate, focus on your love for your partner, and enjoy the sensations you feel.
To schedule an appointment with Kathleen Baxter, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.